There are a lot of different times in the sport when someone earns their money. For the riders it’s at the drop of the gate for the main event or moto. Or, for Johnny Knowles of Scott goggles, it’s when that rain starts coming down and his tear-off setup saves the day. Maybe a tire guy or suspension man finds the right setup and pushes a team to a win. Most of that stuff happens during the racing season, though.
Right now is the time for the many agents in the industry to earn their money by locking down deals for their clients, whether they're riders or teams.
Here's a peek into the process of all that negotiating with one of the sport's top agents, Steve Aldaco.
Racer X: Steve, it's the silly season time now, and although a lot of deals are done, there are still a few teams out there with spots open. There’s still a lot in play for guys. What’s the state of the industry right now?
Steve Aldaco: There's a lot actually going on. I have a couple guys that are obviously on the higher teams and a few guys that are in those spots or available, those non-factory teams as it were. There is a lot going on in the industry right now, whether it's teams coming in, teams going out, a lot of people talking about teams going in and out as well. It's kind of hard to sift through what is true and what's not true. This time of year, a lot of people are saying things that aren't always the whole truth. But there's definitely a lot going on. Especially right now, because everyone seems to wait for the Monster Energy Cup to happen. A lot of people gather information from the Monster Energy Cup, and then budgets are kind of put together based on all that information. So that’s kind of where everyone’s at right now.
For the guys that are locked in, now is gear and goggle time.
Yeah, the guys that weren't in multi-year deals definitely are trying to get their deals done again for gear and goggles.
While this year was kind of quiet, 2017 promises to be big. Doesn't it seem like we're aiming toward 2017 when seemingly everybody’s deals are up?
I'm looking forward to it. Everyone's deals, whether it's 450…there are a couple 450 guys that have multi-year deals, but for the most part everybody's up next year. There are a couple really good guys moving up to the big bike class, which should be really interesting. I'm kind of curious to see how soon they'll get done. And then, as far as the 250 class, there's going to be a lot of movement for the 250 class for sure.
How’s the racing industry doing right now? We had a high point probably in 2003, '04, '05, and kind of crashed a little bit. I feel like it’s coming back—it’s getting healthier, isn’t it?
I think it is getting healthier, but it’s only getting healthier for the upper echelon—the guys that have either won a race or showed potential to win races. And for the other guys, there seems to be a little bit more pullback, kind of "show me" as opposed to "I think you have potential." Before, you could get by on potential and that would work. Now it seems like in the industry, anyway, they’re not so much saying, "Hey, here's the money for potential." If they've shown some flashes of brilliance, yes, but that's more than just potential. But I think that they’ve pulled the strings back a little bit more on some of the guys.
What’s crazy about this time of year are the rumors that a team needs a rider to get a title sponsor, so they tell the title sponsor that they have X rider signed. Meanwhile, the title’s not sure they want to sign, because that rider’s rumored to be maybe signing with someone else. A team can’t get a title sponsor without a rider, but the rider can’t get a deal until the team until the team has the sponsor.
I definitely see that vicious circle a lot right now. Specifically, I’ve seen it with a couple of my riders. [They will say] "I need you to sign right now." And of course I know it’s because they’ve made promises to sponsors or to my guys already. I’ve even [seen] some of my guys on lists that they’re already locked in, but they’re not locked in yet. So it’s interesting. I keep telling people when I talk to them that I have no problem saying that we are talking to you, but certainly don’t say that we’re locked in yet. And of course they ignore it and just put out whatever they want to say. There's a lot of that. I even got a call at des Nations like, "We need to get this thing done because sponsor XYZ will not sign until they know your rider ABC is on board." And of course they’re telling me, "Our title [sponsor] is already done." And I know the title's not already done.
Does it bum you out that there are a lot of agents in the industry and not many of them are as qualified as you? You're a lawyer. Some of your brethren make a bad name for agents in general.
I try not to be shady as much as possible, but at the same time I will fluff my clients. But at the same time I think the people I'm talking to know that I'm fluffing, or giving them more praise than they may deserve. It's funny because I think I’ve established a pretty good rapport with a lot of the people I'm talking to, and they'll just, instead of allowing me to continue fluffing them, like "Okay, get to the nitty gritty—what's going on? And let me just talk to him directly."
And I'm not sure how the other agents do it, but I prefer that the riders talk to the guys. I don't like to always be the conduit. I like to be the source that gets them the contact, establishes their relationship, but ultimately the manager or the owner or the sponsor, they're not fans of me; they’re fans of the rider. So why not have the rider talk directly to them, get the owner/manager/sponsor get to know them? That’s what they want. It doesn’t always matter who got the deal going. I just help the relationship. So I think I might be a little bit different in that way, but I encourage the riders to get to know the sponsors, the ones that are paying them. I think that they appreciate it a little more. I think both sides appreciate it, quite frankly, a little bit more.
It’s got to be tough for a guy like you because there are a lot of companies and teams that have been burnt by agents. Sometimes it's pretty unethical. So then you and the others get painted with a brush. So if you approach a team, sometimes their guard is already up.
I think that's certainly not as much as it used to be. There used to be a lot of agents. I think the ones that have stuck around and have kind of weathered the storm are the ones that are better or competent. I don't think you need a degree to be an agent, but a lot of experience helps. I think the ones that have stuck around are the ones that have done at least a decent job. There were a lot of them before, and there aren't as many now.
When it comes to a rider getting an agent, when you sit down and talk to a young rider and his parents, what kind of stuff do you tell them? How do you approach that recruitment process?
I try to be as honest as I can. I look more long term for them. I want to be more of a planner and help them in the whole process, not just here and now—"Hey, I can get you $100 grand for this," and we're off. I would rather say, "Let's back up, look at the whole picture. Where do you want to be? How are we going to get there?" And I think a lot of them like to hear, "What can you get me right now?" So I know I've missed out on a couple of them, but it's probably for the better that I didn’t get certain individuals.
How much, this time of year, do guys like me—media guys—help or hurt the process? Is it just part of the game?
It's part of it. You guys certainly help. You're an asset. We can utilize you by getting some information out there that we need out there. The only hindrance is when you guys get that information and put that out there, like if my guy’s not done yet and someone reports that he is done, and then everyone stops looking at him.
One of your clients is Wil Hahn. He might win the nice guy award in the industry, but he’s had some tough times. It’s a big year for him.
Yeah. I think wherever he goes, whether he stays at Kawi the following year or not, he deserves a good year. The poor guy has gotten hurt a couple times, and every time he gets hurt it’s right after he's doing really well. Like last year it was at A1, and prior to A1 he was just killing it at the track. So you get all these high hopes, and then something just silly happens and it just ruins it. I'm looking forward to him having a healthy season and proving, not only to everybody else, but also to himself, what he can do.